I love Roman seasonal cooking, tomato based pasta dishes, the seafood centric cuisine of Venice and great pizza in Napoli. But, it is Bologna, the gastronomic heart of Italy that beckons strongest. The capital city of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna sits in the center of a region that includes Parma and Modena where exceptional products like Prosciutto de’ Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic vinegars and Bologna’s Mortadella originate.
Pastas with rich meat sauce such Tagliatelle al ragù and Lasagne are classic Bolognese dishes served and enjoyed worldwide. Another great contribution of Bolognese cuisine – Tortellini — is the subject of this article. Shaped like a belly button (ombelichi), these are said to be inspired by a glimpse through a keyhole at the sleeping goddess, Venus.
Tortellini is ubiquitous in the ancient market area of Bologna. Freshly made ombelichi can be seen in the store windows of the shops lining the backstreets surrounding centrally located Piazza Maggiore. The small shapes are filled with a mixture of meats including the local Mortadella.
The tortellini of Bologna are handmade, filled pasta formed around the smallest finger of the hand by Sfogline – women who keep the tradition alive. These are not at all like the larger, cheese filled “Tortelloni” found packaged in American markets.
I first sampled Tortellini en Brodo at the venerable Trattoria Anna Maria on Via delle Belle Arti, near the University. From our table towards the back of the room I could see inside the steamy kitchen where Anna Maria herself was working with others to turn out exceptional pasta dishes and roasted meats. It was a memorable meal and I have since returned to Anna Maria. I will again when I travel to Bologna. Soon, I hope.
For whatever reason, I am drawn to labor intensive preparations and Tortellini en Brodo certainly falls into that category. I made the delicate dumplings once before with unremarkable results. For this, my second attempt, I was hopeful the results would be better because I have gained a little more knowledge and experience over the years.
In the freezer was a clear broth of chicken and lamb bones leftover from making Ragù all’Abruzzese. This clean and light broth inspired my second attempt at tortellini. Egg pasta dough made the night before was resting in the refrigerator. So what was left was the filling.
The market did not have ground veal on the day I shopped for ingredients, so I selected ground turkey and pork as the base for the filling. Both are cooked in a sauté pan until the meat barely begins to brown and the red is gone. The meat will finish when the tortellini are cooked in broth. Only about 1/4 pound of each is needed.
When cooled, the turkey and pork are combined in a medium-size mixing bowl with all of the other filling ingredients. The mixture needs to be minced finely to stuff the small tortellini and a food processor makes short work of this. Add a little broth if the processed mixture is too dry.
All that is left then is assembly. The Sfogline of Bologna, with decades of practice, make stuffing and shaping tortellini look quick and easy, but for those who make this dish every decade, or so, it takes a while to find a technique and a rhythm. About half way through the making process my little dumplings started looking like the real thing and the tempo picked up so that it only took about 1 minute for each.
A little over an hour later, I had about 50 tortellini – enough for two servings en brodo. With the pasta made, assembly is straightforward. The dish is finished with a sprinkling of salty Parmigiano Reggiano and a squeeze of fresh lemon for brightness. The effort of making the tortellini was well worth it and I was rewarded with memories of a dinner enjoyed with a beautiful traveling companion at Anna Maria’s Trattoria in Bologna.
Makes 2 servings. I like to serve this dish as a starter and follow with roasted pork such as a brined, thick-cut pork chop.
- 1-quart homemade brodo
- Homemade egg pasta dough
- 1/4 pound ground turkey
- 1/4 pound ground pork
- 1/8 pound chopped Mortadella
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1 whole egg
- 1/2 cup stale bread crumbs
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- A generous pinch of salt
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- Fresh lemon for juicing
- Prepare an Italian brodo or chicken broth. There are many examples of how to do this on the Internet and on this blog. The broth used here was made using chicken wings and lamb bones. It is documented in the previous recipe for Ragù all’Abruzzese. Since the brodo is an essential element of this dish, substituting packaged, store bought broth is not recommended.
- Prepare pasta dough using 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 whole eggs. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour. The dough can be made a day ahead. An example of making pasta dough can be found here and here.
- Sauté ground turkey and pork with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until it begins to brown and all of the red is gone. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the ground meat mixture with Mortadella, cheeses, parsley, egg, and breadcrumbs. Season with nutmeg, salt and ground pepper. Cover and place in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes to chill before mincing finely in a food processor.
- Remove the pasta dough from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Starting with 1/4 of the dough, run it through a roller type pasta machine progressively from the thickest to the thinnest setting. Use additional bench flour if the pasta is too wet to work through the machine, but for stuffed pasta such as tortellini, moist dough is desired.
- Lay the rolled pasta sheet on a floured work surface and with a knife or roller cut into 1 to 1-1/2 inch squares. I like to use the smaller 1-inch size. In the center place a small amount of the filling using either your fingers to pinch off what is needed or a piping bag. Don’t be tempted to use more than can be folded into the pasta square.
- There are plenty of resources on the internet that show how tortellini is shaped so I won’t go into it here other than to say, fold the dough over the filling diagonally to form a triangle, seal the edges (water may need to be brushed on the edges before folding if the pasta is too dry to seal), form the triangle into a ring around the tip of your little finger and finish by folding back the protruding top of the triangle. Repeat, etc.
- Bring the brodo to a simmer add seasoning as the broth is made without salt or pepper so it can be seasoned according to how it is used. Cook the pasta in the brodo for about 5 minutes sampling your handiwork to determine if it is done to your liking. Ladle into a bowl, top with a sprinkling of Parmigiano and squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon juice into the dish before serving.